Nobutaka Aozaki is a multi-media artist inspired by his experience of immigrating to New York City from Japan. He works directly with the millions of exchanges city dwellers focus on everyday, and uses the city to collect traces of this contact as evidence of himself in space with others. In Aozaki’s participatory art project and drawing performance, Smiley Bag Project, he set up a portable stand similar to those of the street portrait artists located around Times Square and other tourist locations, and invited pedestrians to model as he drew their portraits on the ubiquitous plastic take-out bags with smiley faces. In From Here to There, he is continually producing a map of Manhattan using small drawings he acquires by asking pedestrians for directions which he then aggregates together to form rough approximations of various neighborhoods. Names on Starbucks Cups is a similar collection of brief interactions. He collects Starbucks cups signed, often incorrectly, with the artist’s name by baristas at various Starbucks locations. The work questions authorship and collaboration by using Starbucks’ system of asking customer names as the method of creating the artwork, turning the barista into an unwitting collaborator. Aozaki relies on making the artist invisible, so that the people he encounters are unaware of their participation in an art project. This omission raises ethical questions by challenging the rules of conduct between artist and audience, consumer and maker, and tourist and local. He navigates this ethical dilemma with humility, in order to transcend the ego and to subvert the notion of the artist as a genius. By diminishing his role as the author of his own works, he is able to give and receive as an ordinary person–turning the item of exchange into a momento of human contact.
Click here to see the un-edited footage of Nobutaka
From Smiley Bag Project, 2011-ongoing
From From Here to There, 2012-ongoing
From Names on Starbucks Cups, 2011-ongoing